Redefining Homeland Security


What is security? Security is the feeling that the good situation you have now will continue for some time. This means, at a minimum, reliable access to healthy food, safe and functional shelter, and protection from oppression. For many in the world, these are goals yet to be achieved. In the US , we typically enjoy the luxury of assuming these basics as a part of life. The recent events in Louisiana have with stark clarity revealed the tenuous nature of that luxury.

For years now I've been hearing many messages from my government, the US government, about how important homeland security is and how seriously we should take it. The fact that our government is spending $40 billion on our security drives the assumption that the government is responsible for providing us more security in return. I agree that taking security seriously is very important, but one thing that Katrina shows is that the government is doing a really, really bad job of creating real security for our way of life. By real security, I mean measurably increasing the chance that tomorrow and for the coming weeks the local systems will maintain access to the basics (food, shelter and protection) for all in the community to survive. I think this is how we should redefine Homeland Security.

Instead, for the past four years since 9/11, our government has focused on creating a "sense" of security. Not real security, just a sense. The prevailing mentality has been to focus attention on some external boogyman (the terrorists), use marketing and media to drive fears throughout the population, and then support redirecting billions of dollars to create the sense that everything is being handled, everything is OK. Catastrophic disaster planning is a minor footnote against the major themes of border protection and terrorism intervention in the budget priorities.

We've been lulled by the idea that someone else--the government--is taking care of keeping things working, and that the primary enemy of our security is external to the US. Neither is true. Our focus has been on strengthening borders and creating flashy systems to keep the bad elements out. Real security would be having in place an engine that would have jumpstarted immediately to respond to and fix the problems like those in New Orleans or other similar disasters. This is where we need to focus. We need to address problems for which there is a real probability of disaster and make effective preparations to address them when they occur.

Here we are, five days later, thousands are without basic support such as water, food, and sanitation . . . we have presidential news conferences and fly-bys, but people are dying in the streets. All evidence points to a situation still getting worse.

I think we need to call a spade a spade. The US government has dropped the ball on creating a more secure US community: Katrina proves that. People who understand the difference between real security and the "sense" that everything is OK need to clearly and forcefully articulate the difference. We need behind-the-scenes preparation for the worst-case situations. Instead we have a Homeland Security department now that creates useful sound bites, systematically drives great fear into the population, and, coincidentally, makes governing much easier.

I am not one to critique, unless it is clear that it will make a difference. Luckily, I think the New Orleans disaster will make a difference in how the US views real security for its citizens. Katrina is a textbook case of why the Homeland Security mentality in this country is largely misdirected toward threats that do not really exist. For hundreds of thousands, their lives were not secured against a hurricane, for which there was ample time to prepare and knowledge of existing, real risks. Homeland security should be more concerned with these issues than with terrorists and other boogymen.

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Matson Dugan's picture
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